New Blood Test Can Spot Cancer in 10 Minutes

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"We designed a simple test using gold nanoparticles that instantly change color to determine if the 3D nanostructures of cancer DNA are present", said Matt Trau, a professor of chemistry at the University of Queensland and deputy director and co-founder of the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.

The DNA can be found in blood and tissue taken from biopsies, according to the study, published in the journal Nature Communications.

"Even for breast cancer, there are a dozen types, so we thought there would be different tests for different types of cancer".

"That absolutely stunned us", Professor Trau said.

So, rather than focus on the methylation itself, the researchers in the new study looked at what the methylation did to the overall structure and chemical properties of the cancer DNA.

A normal cell DNA's distinct methyl pattern is crucial to regulating its machinery and maintaining its functions. "Usually, the approach to find cancer markers ... is to look at the sequence of DNA", he explained.

The tiny molecules that decorate DNA, called methyl groups, are altered dramatically by cancer. They are instructions that control the expressions of the genes.

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Researchers noted that the methyl groups are spread out across the genome in healthy cells, but were present only in particular places in the genome of individuals with cancer.

He said: "Virtually every piece of cancerous DNA we examined had this highly predictable pattern".

"It seems that to launch cancer, you have to run a series of genetic apps".

A simple blood test has been developed that can diagnose cancer in just 10 minutes. This changes the colour of the solution containing the nanoparticles and this change can be detected with the "naked eye" said Trau.

It has shown to be up to 90% accurate in tests of 200 human cancer samples and normal DNA, they said, though it has not been tested in a clinical trial.

While the test is still in development, it draws on a radical new approach to cancer detection that could make routine screening for the disease a simple procedure for doctors.

At this stage, the test can only detect the presence of cancer cells, not their type or the stage of the disease.

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The team was working to further develop the technology and licence with a commercial partner.

"This is a huge discovery that no-one has grasped before", said Laura Carrascosa, a researcher at the University of Queensland.

"The gold standard is the biopsy, and I think that will still have to be done", he said.

Our test also uses circulating cancer DNA but involves a different detection method.

Therese Becker, a molecular biologist from the University of New South Wales, agreed the research was "interesting" and required further investigation.

So, the researchers developed a test that exploits this ability of cancer DNA to stick to gold.

"Our technique could be a screening tool to inform clinicians that a patient may have a cancer, but they would require subsequent tests with other techniques to identify the cancer type and stage", Carrascosa said.

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